Five breast cancer survivors prove that life after the disease can be fulfilling, enjoyable
They sit at the back of a mammoth, pink motorcoach, wrapping pink-coloured chocolates in plastic and ribbon, bantering among one another and sharing their stories of survival with wide-eyed visitors.
But there’s no self-pity or downtrodden attitudes.
These five beaming ladies are all smiles, and their charisma and gutsiness is enough to brighten anyone’s day.
They say things like, “I’m just glad to be here,” and, “ life is great.”
When it comes to the scourge of breast cancer, they are the face of the disease. All five have fought the battle, and have survived to willingly share their stories and advice with others.
“I’ve become a very positive and outgoing person,” said Gladys Mercer of Spaniard’s Bay.
“In fact, before I had breast cancer, I would doubt if I would be saying anything to you right now. I’ve just taken on a different outlook on life and being very positive about it.”
It’s an outlook on life that is shared by Verna Spracklin and Judy Anthony of Clarke’s Beach, Emma Brown of Cavendish and Betty White of Heart’s Content.
The five women were front-and-centre on July 12 when the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Tour for the Cure bus rolled into Carbonear for the day.
It was one of nearly 20 stops across the province for the distinctive pink bus, which educates women and men on how to spot the signs of breast cancer, and advocates the benefits of mammograms.
It also provides an opportunity for cancer survivors from the area to share their stories, and drive home the point that breast cancer is not necessarily a death sentence.
“I live each day to the fullest and feel happy for each day that I’m here,” Spracklin said.
Added Brown with a smile: “I get up when I want to get up. I don’t go to bed until I want to go to bed, and I do what I want to do. And I don’t do anything I don’t have to do. It’s all about attitude.”
The ladies eagerly offer advise to anyone concerned about breast cancer, and encourage people to get to know their bodies. Yearly checkups are critical, they say, and never leave a doctor’s office if you’re unsure about something or don’t understand an answer to a question.
“Ask it again and again until you are comfortable with it,” said White.
The tour promotes the importance of breast self-exams and mammograms, but White is an example of where those measures are not always enough. She encourages people to have their doctor examine their breasts. Such a request probably saved her life.
Self-exams and a mammogram did not detect her cancer. Her doctor did.
“If I did not have the physical exam, it may not have been picked up for another year or so. Then maybe the outcome would have been quite different,” said White.
“It has been said by my surgeon that he sees a lot of ladies who just have mammograms, and not actually physical exams.”
Support from family and friends is also very important, they say, and opening up to other cancer survivors is also very therapeutic. That’s part of the reason why Anthony is such an advocate for a support group based in Clarke’s Beach.
“ We find that a big help, and we encourage anyone with breast cancer to join us,” Anthony said.
But the underlying message, they say, is that people have to be their own health advocate. They believe their lives would have ended prematurely if they did not routinely have mammograms, do self-exams and consult regularly with their doctors.
“I think I saved myself ” by having a mammogram, said Spracklin. “Now I get up every morning and you thank God you’re here.”
On the web: http://www.tourforthecure.
Name: Verna Spracklin Resides: Clarke’s Beach Diagnosed: December 2008 Treatment: mastectomy and chemotherapy Quote: “It’s two year’s later and everything is looking marvelous and I can jump in the air.”
Name: Emma Brown Resides: Cavendish Diagnosed: June 2008 Treatment: four rounds of chemotherapy Quote: “ Thank God I’m on the green side of the sod.”
Name: Betty White Resides: Heart’s Content Diagnosed: October 1999 Treatment: mastectomy and chemotherapy Quote: “I’m into my eleventh year and I’m doing really, really well.”
Name: Gladys Mercer Resides: Spaniard’s Bay Diagnosed: 2005 Treatment: mastectomy and chemotherapy. Had second breast removed in April as a precaution.
Name: Judy Anthony Resides: Clarke’s Beach Diagnosed: February 2007. Treatment: lumpectomy and radiation Quote: “I’ve been really doing well and my faith in God helped me through it all.